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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides a second case today, re accomplice liability instruction

In Ruben Rosales v. State of Indiana, a 13-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:

A jury instruction setting forth the elements of attempted murder must inform the jury that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, with specific intent to kill the victim, engaged in conduct constituting a substantial step toward such killing. Spradlin v. State, 569 N.E.2d 948, 950 (Ind. 1991). Similarly, when attempted murder is premised on accomplice liability, the jury is required to be instructed that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with specific intent to kill. Hopkins v. State, 759 N.E.2d 633, 637 (Ind. 2001) (citing Bethel v. State, 730 N.E.2d 1242, 1246 (Ind. 2000)). But in this case, although the trial court properly instructed Ruben Rosales’s jury on the elements of attempted murder, it failed to inform them that the State had to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Rosales acted with specific intent to kill when he knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused another person to attempt murder. This error was compounded during closing arguments when the State repeatedly insisted that specific intent to kill was not required for accomplice liability to attempted murder. Subsequently, the jury found Rosales guilty of attempted murder, but the general verdict form made it impossible to determine whether direct or accomplice liability formed the basis of their collective decision.

On appeal, Rosales argues that the trial court committed fundamental error by giving an instruction permitting the jury to convict him of attempted murder as an accomplice without the specific intent to kill. Our careful review of our case law leads us to conclude that under the circumstances of this case Rosales is correct. * * *

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. Rosales v. State, 3 N.E.3d 1014, 1019 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014) (Crone, J., dissenting). We granted Rosales’s petition to transfer, thereby vacating the opinion below pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A), in order to resolve an issue of first impression before this Court: whether an accomplice liability instruction was fundamentally erroneous for not stating that an accomplice to attempted murder must have the specific intent to kill when he or she knowingly or intentionally aids, induces, or causes another to attempt murder, where it is unknown if the defendant was convicted of attempted murder on the basis of accomplice liability or direct liability. * * *

Looking for guidance on an issue of first impression, the majority below relied on Thomas to reach its conclusion. However, in this case, reliance on Thomas was misplaced. * * *

[T]he State’s repeated insistence that Rosales’s specific intent to kill did not matter, coupled with the inaccurate jury instruction on accomplice liability, is enough to make a fair trial impossible and constitute fundamental error. We therefore reverse Rosales’s conviction for attempted murder and remand this case to the trial court for a new trial.

Nevertheless, going forward, when an individual is tried for attempted murder as an accomplice, we recommend that Pattern Jury Instruction 2.11(a) be given. This instruction—titled “Aiding, Inducing or Causing Attempted Murder”—instructs the jury, among other things, that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with the specific intent to kill when he or she knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused another person to engage in conduct constituting a substantial step toward attempting to murder another person. Consistent with our case law, this instruction informs the jury of the State’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of attempted murder under an accomplice liability theory—especially the defendant’s specific intent to kill—in order to convict the defendant. And when the defendant is tried under both direct and accomplice theories of liability for attempted murder, this instruction becomes crucial to safeguarding against the error we found in this case.

We reverse Rosales’s conviction for attempted murder and remand to the trial court for a new trial and other proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 15, 2015 04:36 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions